It was a dark night as I walked down an empty street in north Greenlake. I’d never been in the neighborhood and wasn’t sure where I would meet my contact. Ended up he was waiting on the corner of 56th and Latona, leaning casually against a burnt out lamppost. “Do you have the goods?” He asked.
I nodded and handed over a folder marked “Insurance Forms”. Both of us knew that the contents of the folder were very, very different…
Earlier that day, I had been making a list of my two least favorite countries in the world. I’ve never been to Russia or Kazakhstan, but judging by their visa applications, I understand why their novels are all boring and depressed.
Now our Glorious Leader, Hans Sprecher, is a gentleman. He is classy and not prone to swearing or making a fuss, but the Russian Visa application had encouraged him to send me an email titled, Fucking Russia Visa Pain in the Ass.
You see, the Russian visa is nine pages long. Nine pages asking for particulars of your life history. What is your mother’s middle name? What consulate will be processing your visa? Give the address in English and Russian of a hotel you will be staying at. What three cities do you wish to visit? Have you been in the army? Have you been a victim in a combat situation? Do you have any special skills related to explosives, warfare, or nuclear weapons? Do you like your eggs sunny side up or scrambled?
Just joking on that last one by the way.
The application goes on, and on, and on. After an hour of consolidating and filling in the application, I found that I had entered the wrong answer at the very beginning of application. I couldn’t simply change it, I had to go back and start again. A couple tears rolled down my cheek as I began the application once more. Halfway through, I got really hungry. Really hungry. I tootled off to make a sandwich and some coffee, relishing the break, and dreading the half of the application I hadn’t done. I needn’t have dreaded however, because the Russian embassy website had timed me out and I got to start all over. Whoopee! Go to Siberia, do not pass go, do not collect 200 rubles.
The third attempt was successful, I think. But then again I may have answered “Yes” to “Have you ever been forcibly deported from Russia?”
Speaking of deportation, Kazakhstan, the last nation to declare independence from Russia is one of the most diverse countries in the world due to the huge number of people deported there during the height of the Soviet Union. You might have thought they would have glorified in their independence from torturous beaurocracy by having easy applications.
Not so. Not so.
The Kazakhstan paper is equally obtuse, except you have to fill the form out by hand. Roberta and I sat down to do our forms together, no sooner did we set our black (and only black) pens to the paper did she yell out, “Aww crap!”.
You see, Roberta had not used capital letters only, and thus her visa application was null and void. She pulled out a fresh application from the many print offs and began again. This time she made it about halfway down the first page when she marked a box that should have been skipped. Pulling out her third copy, she made it to the same question and skipped it. She carefully read the next sentence and promptly checked the box she had just skipped.
At this point I was trying not to laugh and also trying not to screw up the application because I was very, very close to the end.
We had also run out of application copies.
We both made it to the end and carefully bundled them into a protective folder, setting out to get additional passport photos needed for the application. The local Bartell’s lady taking our picture told Roberta to smile. She grumbled, “I can’t, Russia clearly states to NOT smile in the picture.” But from her pouty face and having spent two hours filling out a form, I had a feeling there might be more reason for her lack of smile.
In hindsight, smiling is probably illegal in Russia. I’m practicing my glum poker face so that I don’t get pulled over for public display of happiness. On the other hand, I’m learning lots of Russian jokes to tell Hans to see if I can get him arrested.
Leaving the store, I made a call to my contact. “Where are you at?” I asked.
“Greenlake. Latona and 56th.” He said simply.
“See you shortly.”
I met Hans on the street corner near where his girlfriend lives and passed over our passports and visa applications in my old “Insurance Forms” folder. It was quite full of intrigue and we were gifted to have a police car pull around the corner just as we made our handoff.